Lifting Bhagyachandra and elephant
Recently I was roaming around the Ima keithel area and I discovered that the statue of 'Rajarshi Bhagyachandra & the elephant' had lost its height. Perhaps it is because of the changing landscape; a flyover is running near above it; the surrounding roads are raised due to repeated bitumen molding.
Prof Gangmumei used to call Rajarshi the ‘Maker of Manipur’. The King made an extraordinary contribution to the culmination of a new cultural tradition – a kind of synthesis with the old and new Vaishnavite traditions. In the second half of the 18th century, Manipur was dominated by his innovations and creations in the field of art and music. And these impacted the entire social and cultural milieu. The Raas Leela and Nata Sankirtana were amazing creations.
According to the local legend Maharaj Bhagyachandra had supernatural power. He had the blessings of Sri Sri Govindaji ( Lord Krishna ). When Bhagyachandra was in exile in Tekhao (Upper Assam), under a conspiracy of King Rajeswar of Tekhao with Bhagya Chandra’s estranged maternal uncle, he was compelled to encounter a wild elephant in an open arena.
When Bhagyachandra was asked to do the act, he felt betrayed but remained quiet. He was bound by the order given by the king of Tekhao. Deeply hurt Maharaj returned to his shelter home. He prayed to Govindaji the whole night. Rather he could not sleep. But he just had a nap. During those forty winks, Lord Krishna (Govindaji) blessed him and told him not to worry.
On the order of the king of Tekhao, an arena was made ready and the elephant was brought in. People and nobles alike sat around the arena ready to witness the spectacle of the king of Manipur fighting a wild elephant. Karta Maharaj took bath and put on Chandan, and performed the Puja for his Lord. He was ready for the arena – dressed up in a Kingly attire.
On receiving orders from the king of Tekhao, Karta Maharaj entered the arena where the elephant was roaming. Reciting Govindaji Govindaji he approached the elephant. On sensing the approach of a human being, the wild elephant turned around and saw a man moving towards him fearlessly. By the grace of God (Govindaji ) - the wild elephant could not do anything. Rather the so-called wild elephant kneeled down, the tusks deeply embedded in the ground. Then Maharaj Bhagyachandra realized that he has got blessings from his Lord and moved towards the elephant and climbed over the pachyderm.
Bhagyachandra mounted the tusker with ease. The crowd yelled victory to the king of Manipur. When Bhagyachandra Maharaj finally dismounted the elephant, Tekhao King received him with great honor. The king of Tekhao, along with his nobles and courtiers, paid full respect to Karta Maharaj Bhagyachandra and proclaimed him the victorious king of Manipur; they also called him Jaisingh. The story of Karta Maharaja's encounter with the elephant is recorded in a book published in Bengali entitled 'Gouranga Sundar', as well as in 'Shri Govinda Nirupan' by Rajkumar Sanahal Singh ( Dr. Jamini quoted).
From these sources, what we learn is that Bhagyachandra's encounter with the elephant occurred between 1760-70. Even though nothing is recorded in the Cheitharol Kumbaba regarding this, there is enough evidence to suggest that this momentous event might have occurred in Upper Assam – Tekhao kingdom. According to the Cheitharol Kumbaba, Bhagyachandra fled to Tekhao in 1765 and returned to Manipur in 1776 with 80,000 Tekhao soldiers. Dates may not be so accurate, but the story is.
There are numerous stories about the elephant episode. Some scholars maintained that the wild elephant of Tekhao was actually the same elephant that had been in the palace of Maharaj Garibniwaj. Elephants always have a longer lifespan than humans. The elephant perhaps could remember the nature and smell of Manipur Royals. The memory of an elephant is also fantastic. Garibniwaj’s elephant might have recognized the royal blue blood of Bhagyachandra. So, kowtowed to him.
Despite all these theories and stories it was believed that Bhagyachandra Maharaj had a victorious encounter with an elephant in Tekhao. He became a legend. That is why we have the Statue of the legend in the middle of Ima Keithel.
Today, our Nata Sankirtana is recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And our dance form Raas Leela is one of the classical dances of India. Credit goes to Rajarshi Bhagyachandra. These are his unique creations - by blending or renovation. What a great artistic King!
So, it requires a great lift of his statue so that it is put on a higher plane just to do justice to the ‘Maker of Manipur’ and keep in tune with the changing Ima keithel landscape. My bitter half says it is already lifted. I told her, it can be lifted further for better height and visibility and also to beautify the ambiance. Urban Planning or PDA may kindly do the needful, of course with the blessing of Lord Marjing.